But devotees have resumed their generous offerings.
A new gold necklace was recently donated, which the statue now wears, said Fr. Jimmy Duero, parish priest, who is having a new security video camera installed.
He said the locks on the donation box in the shrine will be changed, and fortified with a metal case.
He also disclosed a plan to put iron grills in the ceiling and other openings in the bell tower leading to the shrine and into the church building.
The stolen jewelry consisted of 69 necklaces, 70 rings and 16 bracelets, all donated over the years by devotees. The value was estimated by police at almost one million pesos based on an initial inventory.
Fr. Duero said he didn’t know that the old video camera was out of order.
Police took fingerprint samples of the church staff and guards but results are not known.
Police said they suspect the theft was an inside job. While they took fingerprint samples of church workers and security personnel, no results have been announced.
Duero, who was in Manila when the incident happened, said he was saddened to learn about the theft, which took place a week after the annual fiesta of Lapu-Lapu’s patroness, the peak of crowds of visitors and devotees.
He said he wasn’t aware the camera’s recorder was not functioning until after the theft was discovered by a shrine caretaker in the early morning of Nov. 28.
There was no sign of forced entry in the doors. A glass panel of the Virgin’s display case was removed.
The cash donation box below it was also looted.
“Dili sab siguro taga Simbahan kay sa kadugay na sa panahon nga naa sila diri karon pa man na nahitabo,” he told Cebu Daily News.
(It’s not likely that the thief was someone from the church. They’ve been here for so long and nothing like this happened before.)
The parish priest said he, the assistant parish priests and rest of the church staff were willing to undergo a lie-detector test. However, police have not returned to arrange polygraph tests yet.
Duero said he believes the thief was an outsider who had studied the shrine’s layout for a long time to find out how to enter, before he cut the CCTV cable wire, destroyed the locks, and opened the glass casing.
He said the thief may have stayed behind in the building when it was closed for the night and climbed in through the ceiling until he reached the shrine. An old “calachuchi” tree beside the church could have been used as a ladder to reach the ground.
The Virgin’s crown itself wasn’t stolen. Duero said the thief may have known it was not made of solid silver but was silver-plated.
Asked about the monetary value of the stolen jewelry, the priest said he doesn’t know because they never had the items appraised by an expert jeweler. Neither do they ask the giver if their gift is authentic.
Fr. Agustin Polong, the shrine’s rector and assistant parish priest, earlier said the Virgin’s image will wear another set of jewelry when the shrine reopens to the public.
Donations of devotees include new dresses of the Birhen sa Regla which is changed every Monday and Friday, a schedule booked until 2013.
Devotees of the Birhen sa Regla come from Opon (the old name of Mactan) and other parts of the country.
The wooden image of Mary was sculpted by a local artisan out of “tugas” hardwood based on the original image which was a framed painting brought by Agustinian friars in 1735. /Norman V. Mendoza, Correspondent